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How to write short stories - the A to Z of short story success

09 November 2012

How to write short stories - the A to Z of short story success

Get your short stories and other creative writing into shape with our short and useful A to Z checklist of successful short story writing


A is for the Aspirations you have and the Achievement that will follow when you reach your goal of being published. A is also for Affectation, using flowery words that hold up your story and delay the Action.

B is for Background. Characters don’t live in a void, so give them substance. B is also for Balancing your story with a Beginning, middle and ending.

C is for Characters and Conflict. Challenge your characters by giving them problems that show them as people and not puppets.

D is for Dialogue, which reveals more about your characters than pages of prose. Make it realistic, and avoid wooden sentences and trite one-liners.

E is the Empathy you have with your characters. If you don’t feel sympathy for the problems they are facing, why should anybody else?

F is for Flashbacks. Many stories include them, and the trick is to Filter in as much or as little as necessary as to why your characters act as they do.

G is for Guidelines. Take advantage if the magazine issues them, and don’t waste time sending in unsuitable material.

H is for Hope. You never know what the postman is going to bring, providing you keep up a steady output of stories.

I Ideas, Inspiration, Imagination — the magical ingredients that will turn your story into a winner. They can appear when least expected, so don’t forget to...

J Jot them down. Mundane jobs such as ironing or gardening are a great source of thinking-time while you work, but ideas can be lost if you don’t record them.

K is for Kindred Spirits. Cherish your writing friends. Nobody understands your frustrations the way they do. K is also for a Keen mind. A writer’s brain can’t remain stagnant. While there is something to write about, you will write.

L is for Luck. Help yours along by being aware of changes. Fashion in fiction is constantly changing, and your old jumble sale story could be revitalised by setting it at a car boot sale.

M is for Metaphors. As with similes, try to invent your own, and editors will love you. Original writing is a pleasure to read.

N is for the Names you give your characters. Fit them to their ages, status in life and personalities. A character’s Name is the first clue to his identity.

O is for Optimism. Oh boy, do we need this. It also refers to the sparkling Opening to your story that makes a reader want to read more.

P is for Perseverance. If you give up at the first hurdle, you may never know the delights of being a Published Author. It also stands for Pace, which ensures that your story doesn’t flag.

Q is for the Questions you should always be asking. Is this story feasible? Do the characters come to life on the page? Q is also for Quotations, that can give you an idea for a story when you get stuck.

R is for Revising as much as is necessary without tinkering with it so much that you take all the life and soul out of it. But Remember to take out all the Repetitions, typos and spelling mistakes!

S is for Suspense. Don’t give everything away at once. Make ’em laugh, make ’em cry, make ’em wait, and make ’em think that yours was a cracking good story. S is also for your own unique writing Style.

T is for Talent. You never know if you have it unless you sit down and write a story and then submit it. Be brave!

U is for Understanding your characters. To write about fictional characters successfully a writer has to be something of a psychologist.

V is for Visual imagination, your greatest asset. Some call it day-dreaming. Add to it a choice of a good and Varied Vocabulary.

W is for the Writing that we love. What else? Well yes, the bonus of getting paid for it! And the essential What If? questions that help to shape your story from beginning to end.

X is for the X-ray vision we all wish we had to see into an editor’s mind. Since we don’t, use all the aids that are there, such as reading plenty of published stories to see what’s current, and sending for magazine guidelines, until you reach the X-factor that is success.

Y is for YOU. You alone can write the story you always dreamed of doing, and You alone can adapt and change it as much as you like. Then it will be You who is reaping the rewards by seeing Your name in print and can say that You are a published author.

Z is for... Oh, I’m not daunted yet. Z is for the Zeal we put into our writing. It’s also for Zodiac, by which I’m saying that you too can reach for the stars, because in writing terms, anything is possible.

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Last Updated: 10th May 2012